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NBA Finals 2011: Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James and the Top 10 Finals Players

Chris O'BrienCorrespondent IJune 6, 2011

NBA Finals 2011: Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James and the Top 10 Finals Players

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    MIAMI, FL - JUNE 02:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks attempts a shot against Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 2, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    We knew that the 2011 NBA Finals would be loaded with talent.

    Dwyane Wade has won an NBA Finals MVP before, and is putting on another legendary performance. 

    Dirk Nowitzki is doing everything he possibly can, despite little help from his teammates, to show why he's one of the best players to ever play the game.

    LeBron James has not had a great Finals yet, but throughout the rest of the playoffs he made a case for why he is the greatest player in the NBA today.

    With so many talented players on the floor, it's no wonder why the games have been so entertaining to watch.

    Here's a look at the top 10 players so far in the Finals.

10. Joel Anthony

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Joel Anthony #50 of the Miami Heat attempts a shot against Jason Kidd #2 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
    Pool/Getty Images

    Offensively, Joel Anthony has been pretty much nonexistent.

    That's fine. Anthony is not expected to score.

    What Anthony has done well is defend. He's been asked to guard Dirk Nowitzki—not a normal cover for the defensive center—and has played him very well.

    If you look at Nowitzki's games, his scoring often takes off in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Heat are primarily using a Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh lineup, with Haslem on Nowitzki. While Haslem is a good defender, he has not been able to slow down Nowitzki the way Anthony has in the first halves of games.

    Anthony is getting two blocks a game and is the quiet reason why a guy like J.J. Barea is not having the same type of success that he found in other playoff series. Anthony's presence around the rim is altering Barea's floaters and causing other close-range shots to rim out.

9. Udonis Haslem

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Could you imagine the Miami Heat making it this far if Udonis Haslem had not recovered from his injury?

    Haslem has been a huge part of Miami's run and is continuing to be a defensive force in the Finals.

    Haslem's defense on Dirk Nowitzki on the final few possessions of Game 3 were a showcase of how you are supposed to guard the 7'0" power forward.

    In the final three plays, Haslem forced Dirk to pass it to Jason Terry, forced him to make a difficult pass to Shawn Marion (resulting in a turnover) and then finally forced him to end the game on a contested (missed) jump shot.

    While those plays on any other night may have resulted in a Terry three or a Dirk game-tying fadeaway jumper, they are much harder points than the layup Dirk had at the end of Game 2.

    It's hard to say Haslem has been a shutdown defender since Dirk has exploded in fourth quarters, but he has made possessions tough on the Dallas star. He is also chipping in 5.0 PPG, which is small, but crucial since Anthony cannot score.

8. Tyson Chandler

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  (R) Tyson Chandler #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts in the third quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressl
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Tyson Chandler has done all the little things in this series.

    His rotations on defense, his blocked shots, his occasional tip-in slams and his help-side defense have all been superb.

    In Game 3, he had the responsibility of being the Mavericks' only true center. He was forced to play 40 minutes due to Brendan Haywood's injury and Ian Mahinmi's trigger-happy fouls.

    In those 40 minutes, Chandler pulled down 11 rebounds (seven offensive), and forced several Heat turnovers. He blocked three shots and kept his fouls at two, which was critical because if he was in foul trouble too, the Mavericks would have had to resort to a small lineup or Brian Cardinal at center.

    While Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic have not scored as many points as they need to, Chandler has been steady with 9.0 PPG.

7. Jason Terry

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Jason Terry has had the chances to be higher on this list.

    In Game 3, if he would have hit that late-game three-point shot, the Mavericks probably would have won the game and Terry would be in the top five performers.

    However, with that late-game miss in Game 3, being shutdown by LeBron James in the fourth quarter of Game 1, and Game 2's defensive lapse on Mario Chalmers—which almost cost the Mavericks the game—I can only put him this high.

    On a positive note, Terry was crucial for the Mavericks in his fourth-quarter scoring in Game 2 and he has been the only reliable No. 2 scorer. Producing 14.3 PPG as a sixth man is what Terry needed to do for Dallas in this series and it's hard for the Mavericks to expect him to get any more.

    The problem is that with the rest of the Dallas offense being almost nonexistent, Terry is going to have to score even more points off the bench for the Mavericks to win this series.

6. Chris Bosh

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat celebrates against Tyson Chandler #6 of the Dallas Mavericks after the Heat won 88-86 in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER:
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    It's important not to fall too much into the hype of Chris Bosh's late-game shot in Game 3.

    Dwyane Wade drew a double-team, Udonis Haslem set a great screen and LeBron made a good pass. All Bosh had to do was hit a wide-open baseline jumper. It was not a heroic play from Bosh.

    However, it was a clutch shot and it covers up what has been a less-than-stellar series for the power forward thus far.

    Bosh is averaging 16.3 PPG on only 30.8 percent shooting. The moments when he has shined offensively have been when Peja Stojakovic subs in and makes elementary-level mistakes defensively, resulting in Bosh's post moves resembling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's.

    Chris Bosh was a major factor in the Chicago Bulls series, but so far in the NBA Finals, he hasn't warranted inclusion in the Big Three.

5. Mario Chalmers

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Mario Chalmers #15 of the Miami Heat reacts after he made a shot in the second half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Mario Chalmers has been the biggest surprise of the NBA Finals.

    Like Chris Bosh, when Chalmers had a wide-open look at the end of Game 2, he nailed the three-point shot.

    Unlike Chris Bosh, Chalmers has been consistently good in all three games so far.

    In Game 1, Chalmers was great off the bench, picking up the slack of Mike Bibby and giving the Heat a much-needed 12 points. He hit three three-point shots, and his defense kept J.J. Barea in check.

    In Game 2, Chalmers scored nine points in only 24 minutes of play and once again kept Barea from being a factor.

    I will admit, I doubted Chalmers would have an impact in Game 3, since usually backup point guards' impacts are minimal in road games. However, there was Chalmers again, this time hitting four three-pointers—one of which should not have counted—and giving the Heat solid defense in the fourth quarter.

    I doubt Coach Spoelstra will alter his starting lineup, but the way Chalmers is playing, he should be getting more minutes than Mike Bibby.

4. Shawn Marion

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks reaches for a ball against Mike Bibby #0 of the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    I am afraid that Shawn Marion's impact in this series is going to be lost in all the other headlines.

    Between Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki's performances, the articles bashing the Mavericks teammates for not chipping in offensively to help Dirk and the hype around LeBron James' lack of fourth-quarter points, no one is really talking about Shawn Marion.

    The reason for LeBron's less-than-dominant series has been Marion. Marion has kept LeBron in check, holding the Heat superstar to 20.3 PPG. He's made possessions tough for LeBron, forcing James into turnovers and difficult three-point shots.

    Offensively, Marion is scoring 15.3 PPG a game, which puts him as the second-most effective Mavericks player. He's also pulling down seven rebounds a game and dishing out a little over three assists a night.

    Think about it this way: Marion is only 5.0 PPG behind LeBron James. With Wade dominating his matchup, and Dirk Nowitzki matching that difference in his numbers over Chris Bosh, it's critical that Marion keep LeBron in check. If Dallas was able to win the point guard battle in this series, it might be up 3-0.

3. LeBron James

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts after the Heat defeat the Dallas Mavericks 88-86 in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    It's easy to get caught up in the points and forget about LeBron's impact on the rest of the game.

    Yes, Wade has stolen the show from him in this series in terms of being the scorer and closing out games, but LeBron's positive impact on the game has still been there.

    In Game 3, hidden behind a few turnovers and another low-scoring fourth quarter, LeBron dished out nine assists. He also had two steals and held Shawn Marion to 10 points.

    In Game 2, LeBron had four steals. In Game 3, LeBron had the game-winning assist. In Game 1, his defense on Jason Terry took the Mavericks out of the game.

    LeBron has played at a high level in this series. Dwyane Wade has just played higher.

2. Dwyane Wade

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat reacts against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Dwyane Wade in 2006 won the title for the Heat with an aging Shaquille O'Neal and Antoine Walker as his No. 2 and No. 3 options.

    In 2011, those second and third options are LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

    After watching the Chicago Bulls series, I did not think Dwyane Wade was going to be able to give the Heat what he did five years ago. He looked fatigued, slightly injured and just a little bit off against the Bulls. If Wade was only at that level in the NBA Finals, the Mavericks would have the edge.

    However, Wade is playing far closer to his 2006 self than his 2011-vs.-the-Chicago Bulls self. Here's a look at the statistical comparison between 2006 Wade, through three games, and 2011 Wade thus far.

     

    2006 Wade

    31.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.7 SPG

     

    2011 Wade

    29.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.3 SPG

     

    As you can see, Wade has been just as dominant so far in 2011 as he was in the first three games of the 2006 NBA Finals.

    Wade has also scored 23 points so far in the fourth quarter.

    If the Heat go on to win this title, and Wade stays at this pace, he will win his second NBA Finals MVP.

1. Dirk Nowitzki

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks walks off the court after being defeated 88-86 by the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expres
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The NBA Finals MVP has only gone to a player on the losing team one time (Jerry West in the 1969 NBA Finals).

    Dirk Nowitzki is making a case for this year to be another exception.

    Since Dwyane Wade has played so well and his team is up 2-1 right now, he is in the lead for Finals MVP. However, Dirk has put on an absolute show in these Finals, particularly in the fourth quarter.

    The Mavericks cannot put the same type of attention on Dwyane Wade that the Heat put on Dirk. If the Mavericks double Wade, he can get the ball to LeBron James or Chris Bosh. When the Heat double Dirk, his second and third options are not nearly as reliable.

    Dirk's shots have all been difficult, yet he continues to make them. He's averaging a hair over 28 points per game and is pulling down 10 rebounds a contest. His defense has also been solid with blocked and altered shots.

    What has been amazing about Dirk is his fourth-quarter play. Everyone in the gym knows the Mavericks want the ball in Dirk's hands, Miami's defense—one of the best defenses in the world—has set itself up to try and stop him, but he still hits clutch shots.

    In Game 2, he scored his team's final nine points. In Game 3, more of the same, as Dirk scored 15 points in the fourth quarter.

    I think it's time for us to realize Dirk does not have to win a title to be considered one of the greatest of all time. The performance he's putting on in these Finals has been incredible. His team needs to give him some help to win the title, but so far, he should win the Finals MVP regardless of the series outcome.

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